Custody and Visitation in the time of Covid

How some people use coronavirus to get back at their exes

New York Post May 5, 2020 | 5:23pm | Updated

Her estranged husband took off for Long Island with the kids as the coronavirus wracked the city in mid-March — and she says he’s used the contagion as an excuse to keep her from getting near them ever since.


Laura*, 50, said her ex and their four children, ranging in ages from 10 to 22, fled the city for their Long Island summer home amid the pandemic March 13. She stayed behind in Manhattan before heading out to join them seven days later — and was immediately relegated to the pad’s guest house, with her ex claiming she needed to be quarantined.


She’s remained there for nearly two months and has had no physical contact with the kids.


“He is using this as a means to punish me,” Laura said of the pandemic and her husband of 25 years.


The mom, who lived separately from her ex in Manhattan and shares custody of their children, said the kids have now been brainwashed against her — to the point where when she recently went into the main house to drop off mail, one of them flew into a panicked frenzy.


“My 18-year-old started screaming ‘Get out! Get out!’ and started running at me spraying Lysol and [holding] wipes,” said the mom, who has a meditation studio.

She said she hasn’t been able to hug or kiss any of her kids because “I go to the market to get food, and each time I drive out of the driveway to go hiking in the trails or go walking on the beach, [her ex] says, ‘Nope, got to start over’ ” with the two-week quarantine.


Her estranged husband has even involved the family’s dogs in the battle, Laura said.


Any time one of them ventures over to the guest house, her ex treats them to a thorough wash before they’re allowed back inside the main premises, she said.

The wild situation is just one example of how the coronavirus has created chaos over child-custody issues for city residents since the Big Apple became a global epicenter for the contagion this spring.


Some parents are using the virus as an excuse to keep their exes out of the picture when it comes to the kids — and making matters worse, there hadn’t been any legal recourse for weeks.


New York’s courts went virtual March 26 amid the pandemic and announced they were only hearing emergency cases. Most divorcing parents suddenly lost the judges they relied on to mediate their battles, leaving both sides only sparring more.


“There’s always a lot of anxiety and uncertainty when you’re getting divorced, but the fallback was you could go to court,’’ said high-powered family-law attorney David Mejias.


“Now you have anxiety and uncertainty, and you can’t even go to court on most of the issues that divorcing couples have.”


Laura’s lawyer, Nancy Chemtob, agreed, saying, “When an adversary calls and says, ‘We are not going to deliver the kids,’ there is no recourse.’’


Her law partner, Susan Moss, added, “Custody is like the wild west’’ right now.

“With the courts being [partially closed], there is no sheriff in town. …. Each parent thinks they’ve been deputized to make their own rules.”

­­­

Courthouses in the city and state went dark at the end of March in an unprecedented move, as the coronavirus threat spread. A small fraction of hearings deemed emergency were allowed to proceed, although through a virtual system. Those cases involved issues that included child neglect and domestic abuse. But a parent violating a temporary custody agreement by doing something like failing to drop off the kids on time? That wouldn’t be considered an essential proceeding, so the other side couldn’t file a motion asking the judges for help resolving an issue, state courts spokesman Lucian Chalfen explained to The Post.

In Adam’s* case, he saw his 12-year-old daughter three to four times a week before the pandemic. Now it’s been two months since their last visit, according to his lawyer, Michael Stutman.


“The problem that we have here is the virus is making this too easy for [the ex]” to violate the agreement, Adam, 45, told The Post. She’s “taking advantage’’ of the situation.


He said his ex fled with their daughter to New Jersey to ride out the coronavirus storm with her family — at first, with his blessing. “I let her mother take [the child] out of the city not knowing how bad it would be,’’ he acknowledged. Then “before you know it, they shut the schools. Now I’m kicking myself saying, ‘You just made this worse by doing that.’ But it was the best thing for my daughter.”


And things might have turned out fine if his ex hadn’t then said he could only visit their daughter by walking her around the corner, after he would have made the hour-plus trip each way to see her, he said.


During a recent online therapy session, even the family’s counselor recommended that dad and daughter spend time together in person, Adam said. So Adam offered to pick up his daughter April 10 and take her back to New York for the weekend.


His ex nixed that notion — then “sends an e-mail saying there will be no more therapy sessions via video,” Adam said — in violation of a previous court order saying that no more than three counseling meetings can be missed. He said he finally managed, through the lawyers, to force resumed virtual therapy with his daughter, but of course, that came at a cost, both financially and emotionally.


“It’s all a game with no repercussions right now legally,” Adam said. “I don’t know when I’m going to see my daughter again, and I don’t know if [the ex] is going to let me make up my [lost] parenting days.”


Then there’s the other side of the issue.

Balkys Sicard’s ex-husband is an NYPD officer who was working in Lower Manhattan in March — and when he started haranguing her about seeing their two young boys over spring break, “I didn’t know what to do,’’ she said.


“I have a detailed parenting agreement, and it never called for a pandemic,’’ said Sicard, who lives in Boston and is in her 40s.“I don’t want to stop the father of my children from seeing our children. [But] I explained to him that … he is a first responder and that he hasn’t been quarantined. And I didn’t believe it was safe and in the best interest of our children,’’ she said.


Her ex eventually landed an emergency hearing before a Bronx Supreme Court judge, but the ruling went in her favor: He was only granted video visits with their kids for now.“I don’t know when I will be able to see [my kids] again. There were no specific conditions given for when my parenting time would be reinstated,” said the despondent dad, who asked not to be named, in an e-mail to The Post.


Even Sicard’s lawyer, Julie Hyman, said she has sympathy for him.“This is one of those situations that the people who are here to protect us, first-responders, they are the ones that are also being punished,” she said. “I am compassionate to both sides.”

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